This Bill is the cornerstone of the Government's plans to restructure the public service and public expenditure. It lays the foundation for ensuring that value for money is delivered by the Government and State bodies under its remit. The reason for reforming the public service is to ensure its intrinsic value is recognised. I regret the private-public divide that has emerged over the past several years. This divide is largely a legacy of the efforts of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party-Progressive Democrats consortium to pillory people through penal taxation and bad governance.
It is important that we recognise the value of our public servants. As a Member of Seanad Éireann I was a strong advocate and defender of the public service against unjust attacks and unfair commentary and as a Deputy I will continue to defend the hardworking men and women of our public service, who ensure the Government functions properly and that high quality services are delivered. Two weeks ago when Queen Elizabeth and President Obama visited the country, the men and women of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and our city and county councils were to the forefront in providing the security and organisation that ensured the State visits were a huge success.
In defending the public service, however, I do not claim everything is perfect or that change is unnecessary. This Bill will ensure increased efficiency in the delivery of public services. The need for reforming the public service has become a mantra and it is believed reform will be at the top of the political agenda for the next three or four years. Deputy Durkan noted yesterday that we previously had a Minister who was responsible for the public service. In one of the Governments I recall as a young person growing up, John Boland had responsibility for the public service. For the past decade, however, there has been an absence of ministerial oversight or proper adherence to regulations. The blame for that can be ascribed to those at the top of the Executive, that is, the men and women who sit in the Cabinet. Their duty was to ensure we had proper governance. It is time we changed the system of government that has operated for the past decade or more so that we can provide ministerial accountability, responsibility and oversight. If we see that, the taxpayers will respond. They have paid for years for the waste of inefficient Governments. The new Department provided for under this Bill will not only focus on the public service but on the elimination of waste and reform of practices to ensure accountability both within government and the public service.
Earlier this week, I attended a meeting in Cork with the county manager. In one year €3.8 million was saved in procurement and the renegotiation of contracts. While I welcome the Bill and the Government's commitment to public service reform, this must go hand in hand with political reform and not become tokenism for the sake of optics. The people voted in the recent election and they have entrusted the running of the country to a group of people who sit in Cabinet. They received a seal of office from the President and they must show leadership. Leadership requires being responsible and making decisions to achieve the delivery of a public service that is fit for purpose, to create efficiencies in public expenditure and to establish a new approach to the delivery of services, which will be critical to restoring people's trust in the body politic and in the public service.
The Government has demonstrated leadership regarding political reform but we can do more. We must show leadership as we have been elected by the people to represent them. That has to happen from the top down rather than from the bottom up because those who can afford to take a pay cut at senior levels should do so rather than introducing pay cuts at the expense of those at the bottom.
The legislation is critical to the people's ongoing concern regarding the public service, which will be addressed, but integrated, joined up thinking is important. That will require a change of mindset. I am happy the Bill is a fulfilment of a commitment in the Fine Gael manifesto and policy papers prior to the election to create a public office for spending and modernisation, which I hope will lead to a better distribution of the workload and the preparation of proper spending Estimates and expenditure management within the overall envelope over which the Ministers for Finance and public expenditure and reform will have jurisdiction.
It is also important that power is devolved to public servants. We have a good public service, which does great work. If there is a car crash on the N7 at 4 a.m., public servants working for the Ambulance Service, the Garda, Fire Service and our hospitals will look after the victims. Great work is done in our schools, particularly for children with special needs, by public servants such as physiotherapists, special needs assistants, teachers and language support professionals who adhere to the public service ethos. I challenge anybody to examine the services provided by the Cope Foundation in Cork as an example of the delivery of public services and tell me that organisation does not provide an extraordinary service on behalf of those who need it the most.
We must recognise, as the programme for Government does, that public service is about serving the people and looking after everybody, not just the notional few or a sectional interest. It is not about making a profit. It is important that the Government is accountable, transparent and efficient in its approach. Power, therefore, must be devolved to public servants to give them the opportunity to demonstrate leadership.
Accountability has been missing from many aspects of our governance and public service. The proposals outlined in the programme for Government are radical and they must deliver results and eliminate inefficient governance while restoring accountability. Deputy Calleary was committed to what he was doing in his role as Minister of State. He recognised the importance of the public service, that change was needed and that the Croke Park agreement needed to be delivered on. However, he was on his own for too long and he did not have the support of all his colleagues in Government. It is pity the previous Government was not held accountable because if we had been governed properly, we would not be where we are today.
In the few weeks the Government has been in power, the Minister for Health and Children has stated there must be a change agenda within the HSE. He appointed a new board and he has not distanced himself from decisions. He has been responsible and accountable. He has taken action and he has not run away from issues relating to the fair deal scheme and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The theme of accountability that pervades this legislation means the Public Service Management Acts and the Ministers and Secretaries Acts will be replaced with a reformulated code of laws with explicit responsibilities. The old style of politics and Government is over.
The leader of Fianna Fáil referred to an end to Punch and Judy politics. If that is to happen, it must be replaced by a system under which power is designated, roles assigned to Ministers, other officeholders and public servants and people who are given power will know their role, duties, remit and what is within their control and there will be a clear demarcation of responsibilities. For too long commentators have pilloried, demonised and blackguarded public servants. That is wrong and it must end. If we are to have a commentary on our public service, let it be fair, balanced and benchmarked against results.
Benchmarking was wrong and it did not deliver what was intended but Fine Gael was the first to say this. We were given out to and we were told we were anti-public servant. We are not and we never were. Within this Government, the public servants have a friend at court who wants to modernise and bring about change and give them a sense that the work they do is important and valued. However, there must be reform and change. Deputy Healy stated yesterday the Government was about cutting jobs and pay. We are not but we live in a new Ireland where the delivery of public service must be more streamlined, provide value for money and be about the people. Public service is about delivery for the people.
I am conscious as a public servant who taught in the classroom that we enjoy privileges in the context of pensions and permanent jobs but many of my former colleagues did not make significant money during the boom. They did not go berserk and party like others and they are subject to the pension levy, which I regret. However, following the announcement of the jobs initiative, we have had an uprising by others who have been forced to pay a levy. It is important that decisions are taken for the common good of all citizens not just those with vested interests which was the hallmark of ten years of Fianna Fáil. Deputy Calleary will disagree with me but that was the legacy they left us.
It is important that we get value for money in this time of economic regression in the State finances. We must obtain value for the money we are expending on behalf of the taxpayer. The Bill will enhance the role of the public service, put a value on the work of public servants and also ensure accountability for the public purse. Money was wasted on fancy projects in the past decade by unaccountable Ministers who had a slush fund and who spent it as if they were literally trying to buy votes. An analysis of the sports capital programme will show what Ministers have done in their constituencies. I refer in particular to the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism who was like the uncrowned king of Kerry who spent money at will in his constituency. I am pleased we did not have the "Bertie bowl". It would have been a fitting epitaph to a great ten years of waste and abandonment in the country. The one good thing the Progressive Democrats did was to say "No" to that. We have a fine stadium in Croke Park which could still be a national stadium.
It is important that the Minister would say to those in RTE who are on exorbitant salaries of in excess of €500,000 that it is time they took a cut. Could someone explain how those who earn a significant amount of money in RTE are worth €1 million, €700,000, €500,000 or €300,000? I do not understand it. It is time those salaries were cut. We must treat the money as the people's money. The money we spend is raised through taxes. Many citizens today are doing their best to stay afloat. I hope the Minister for Finance will say "No" to AIB if it comes looking for a change in the salary cap for a new chief executive. We could not allow that to happen. There are no extenuating circumstances in which the salary cap could be allowed to be breached.
Equally, it is important that the value for money and policy reviews and the proposed central evaluation unit will ensure Government spending is transparent, accountable and efficient. If we need to change our approach to public accounts then we should do so. We are spending people's money. That includes all of us. We are privileged in this House. We must recognise that we are on reasonably good salaries. Many people are less fortunate than us — many of them within the public service who are in lower paid jobs who do good work.
It is important that we encourage the renewal of the public service. I very much welcome engagement with the public service unions and all the stakeholders. We cannot be governed by IBEC, SIPTU or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is not about them. It is not about sectional interests. It is about all of us together marrying talents and ideas and doing what is best for people.
I very much hope we will have joined-up thinking in the approach to public service reform between various Departments and agencies. For too long quangos have been created to look after certain areas of Government policy. We have taken away the power and role of local authorities in some cases. We have made the HSE unaccountable to the House. When one tables a parliamentary question to the Minister, one is told the HSE is responsible. The NRA is another example. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport says he does not have any remit over it. Likewise with Fáilte Ireland; it is not the Minister who is responsible, it is the board. We must examine the transfer of roles and duties of certain bodies.
The policy agenda is far reaching and radical. The scope of responsibility for the new Department will be vital in delivering the Government's reform agenda. We must put the country back on track if we are to get this country back to work again, which is the most critical and important task of the Government. The Department must deliver on the ambitious programme laid out in the Bill. Mar focal scoir, because the proposals are necessary and radical the challenges we face must be met. There can be no obfuscation or hiding. I hope the delivery of reform in the public service will be achieved in such as way as to recognise genuinely the value of the public service, bring about efficiency, a better delivery of service and a reduction in costs.